Combating Anxious Thoughts

We’re in the thrust of spring here in Cincinnati. The weather can be anywhere from a high of 55 to a high of 80 and I never know if I should turn my AC on or not. This morning, I elected to leave the AC off and to leave a screened window open so that my pets could get a breeze while I was out for the day.

I left my house worry-free and drove to meet a colleague for breakfast. I arrived ten minutes early, which gave my anxious brain some time to catastrophize. I stared to imagine one of my pets somehow knocking the screen out of the window and jumping out. Is it possible that one of my pets would jump up on the widow sill, knock the screen loose, and jump to their doom? Well, technically. Is it likely? No, not at all.

It’s not likely for a variety of reasons. One of my pets is disabled and can’t jump up onto furniture, let alone perch on a window sill. The other (a cat) is actually terrified of being outside and bolts under the bed when I open doors to the outside. Additionally, it’s very unlikely that he would be able to dislodge the screen anyway. I can’t tell you the exact statistic, but I would wager that it’s around 99% unlikely.

I repeat these facts in my brain over and over again while practicing deep breathing. My colleague arrives, we have a nice breakfast, and my day proceeds as normal. Throughout the day, I will continue to have anxious thoughts and I will continue to look for evidence to dispute them.

I know I’m not alone in these catastrophic thoughts- they’re a prominent feature for many folks who struggle with anxiety disorders. Did I leave the oven on? Did I lock the door? Did I say the wrong thing and offend somebody? Is my friend going to hate me if I can’t come to her birthday celebration? The list goes on and on.

Catastrophic thoughts are powerful because there is a slight chance that they could prove themselves to be true. It’s not outside of the realm of possibility that you left your flat iron on, but how likely is it? And if you did leave it on, how likely is it that it will cause damage or a fire? Incredibly unlikely.

Anxiety causes us to overestimate the likelihood of something going wrong and assume that the consequences will be worse than they really are. If the thing that you’re worrying about does happen, you will be okay. I promise! If you continue to fear and avoid your anxiety provoking triggers, your anxiety will just become stronger. Looking for evidence and confronting your anxiety will help you to live a life that’s driven by your wants and needs and not your anxiety’s fears.

Emily Teegarden